“The sorrows of God must be hard to bear, if He really has love in His heart, and the hardest part in the world to play must surely be God’s part.” ‘The Sorrow of God’ — G. Studdert-Kennedy
November contains one of the most memorable dates of our calendar year. That is, of course, Remembrance Sunday, when we stop to remember all those who have died in the fight for freedom during the First and Second World Wars as well as the numerous conflicts since.
I am a great admirer of the World War I Chaplain Geoffrey Studdert-Kennedy, known fondly by his contemporaries as ‘Woodbine Willie’ for the cigarettes he used to dole out to the soldiers on the front line. The outbreak of the First World War saw a dramatic theological shift in the popular perception of God and the Christian faith. The traditional Victorian teaching that the cross had been necessary to save humankind from a sentencing to the depths of hell struggled to survive as soldiers encountered the reality of a living hell within the trenches of Flanders and France. Understandably, a new belief in God who instead suffered alongside his children in the trenches and the horrors of war flourished and grew in popularity. It was this new theological perspective that Studdert-Kennedy encapsulated throughout much of his writings and poetry; particularly in the poem, simply titled, ‘The Sorrow of God’.
Whilst it is difficult to be anything but empathetic to this view, firmly held by many struggling to keep the faith as they experienced the horrors of mass-warfare on a scale we can only imagine, it is for a number of reasons problematic to think of God as suffering in his infinite being throughout eternity. But this does not mean that we worship a distant God who has no knowledge or understanding of the highs and lows that we all face throughout our lives, for one simple reason — Christ.
The great beauty and comfort of the incarnation -the coming of Christ to earth – is that God is not a distant faraway figure with no care for or understanding of his people. The Almighty God, creator of heaven and earth, chose to take on flesh and to make himself vulnerable In human form. God knows the pain of suffering just as he knows loneliness, grief, fear, hurt as well as joy and happiness and all the feelings — good and bad — that life can bring. There is then no reason to ever feel alone or abandoned in our feelings, because God has felt them too in the person of Jesus Christ — God made flesh. As I was reminded by a questions in the game of llivial Pursuit (one of our wonderful wedding gifts from the parish —thank you I) the shortest verse of the Bible simply reads “Jesus wept”.
So, as we remember those fallen soldiers of the First and Second World Wars this Remembrance Day, and as we despair at the sights of conflict within our world today through our television screens, let us also reflect upon the coming season of Advent – which begins at the very end of this month — and our anticipation of the incarnation. For God is with us, He is with us in our deepest despair and our greatest joys, and that is a reason to rejoice.